November 14, 2012

Toronto Construction Association weighs in on Ontario College of Trades

The direction of the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) has “come off the rails,” says the leader of one of the largest construction associations in North America.

“I would rather the way it was than the way it appears to be unfolding,” said John Mollenhauer, president and chief executive officer of the Toronto Construction Association (TCA) .

He said it makes “overwhelming” practical sense to have the skilled trades regulated by an industry-driven organization, as long as it is balanced. The direction OCOT is taking has become a concern for the TCA.

“By comparison, certification and apprenticeship training in Quebec are government regulated and their well-documented skilled labour problems are very different from ours,” he said.

Once fully operational, OCOT will represent 157 skilled trades in the construction, motive power, industrial and service sectors. Legislated in 2009, OCOT’s mandate includes promoting the skilled trades to youth, disciplining members and enforcing training standards and reviewing the status of compulsory certification and apprenticeship ratios.

The TCA board acknowledges the importance of attracting skilled tradespeople to Ontario and ensuring they have sufficient skills to perform their trade safely, but the board has unanimously opposed the current administration’s implementation of the College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act, 2009.

The Ontario Construction Employers Coalition has been a vocal opposition to the college, calling for its abolition. Mollenhauer believes that abolishing the Act is not the answer and pointed out that if the Liberal government stays in power it will not scrap the college. The TCA supports the revision of the framework of apprenticeship and training certification that existed pre-Bill 183, based on the Apprentice and Certification Act, 1998 and the Trades Qualification and Apprenticeship Act.

The TCA has had consultations with OCOT and Mollenhauer believes that the College can still be saved if remedies are sought quickly.

The TCA board fears that if left unchecked, OCOT will result in significantly higher construction costs and lack appropriate accountability and transparency.

Portions of the Act have not been proclaimed, such as the part relating to whether employers will have to join OCOT. Mollenhauer hopes that employer will not have to join because it is estimated that fees will be around $600 per journeyperson.

“That’s a cost that’s very difficult to recoup,” he said.

“We’re concerned that if it’s more expensive for a skilled labourer to become licensed and certified to work in Ontario versus elsewhere, then they’ll go elsewhere.”

Only 34 of the 157 skilled trades in Ontario have journeyperson to apprentice ratios and most of them are set at 1:1, reviews.

“If apprenticeship ratios start going to 3:1 or 4:1, then that’ll drive construction costs up because you’ll need more journeypersons and fewer apprentices,” said Mollenhauer.

“It’s really important that there be a real balance and not a bias on the part of the board. We don’t want to see a whole bunch of trades that are currently voluntary become compulsory, because that will drive construction costs up. And one of our concerns is that directly or indirectly, employers ultimately bear a lot of that cost.”

The TCA said there needs to be more discussion about indemnity as some experts believe that the idea of an all-trades governing body hinges on the issue of professional indemnity. Mollenhauer pointed to architects and engineers as an example of professionals that are held accountable by their regulatory authority for errors and emissions and can purchase insurance to mitigate the risk while the skilled trades cannot.

The OCOT budget for 2013 is $19 million including enforcement, so speculation that the College will cost Ontarians upwards of $84million in 2013 would seem exaggerated, said Mollenhauer, adding that that OCOT will cost “many fold” more than the current system within government and the “incremental benefits remain unclear.”

Mollenhauer said there has been far too little disclosure and then when there is an announcement it’s “too little, too late.” The TCA is advocating that OCOT and/or the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities open their books so all the facts are on the table.

“If they’re good listeners and they’re willing and able to work with us then there’s no need to scrap the legislation. But then, if they’re not, then we’d be forced to join the others and lobby to have it scrapped because the industry just simply can’t afford higher construction costs,” said Mollenhauer.

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